The PKK (Partiya Karkarên Kurdistan, Kurdistan Workers Party) is a transnational Kurdish movement led by Abdullah Öcalan that seeks an independent Kurdish state (Kurdistan) in southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq. The PKK dominated Kurdish political discourse in the 1980s and 1990s, and violently targeted the Turkish military and security forces. The heavy handed response of the Turkish state, including indiscriminate violence and the use of torture, triggered a wider popular national Kurdish rebellion and mobilized a large portion of Turkey’s Kurdish population. Over 50,000 have died in conflicts between the PKK and the Turkish army, with government expenses of roughly $300 billion.

Abdullah Öcalan was captured in 1999 and is currently serving a life sentence, though remains the undisputed leader of the PKK. Following his capture, he stated that an independent Kurdistan is no longer the goal of the PKK, but rather an inclusive Turkish democracy. Despite a five year ceasefire after his arrest, the PKK has engaged in violence in the years following. The AKP negotiated a renewed ceasefire in March 2013, at which point PKK militants left Turkey for northern Iraq. By late 2013, PKK leadership expressed frustration with ongoing conversations with the AKP, and has threatened to resume violence in Turkey.


Fevzi Bilgin, “Introduction,” Understanding Turkey’s Kurdish Question, eds. Fevzi Bilgin and Ali Sarihan (New York: Lexington Books, 2013), pp. vii-xxi.

See also: Iraq, Turkey